Coach: Andrew Girard, 11th Season
Location: Pittsburgh, PA
2011 Ranking: #17
2012 Ranking: #19
2013 Ranking: #19
2014 Projected Ranking: #13
One thing that I’ve decided to keep in mind when ranking the Tartans (yes, what a mascot) is to make sure that I temper my expectations. Carnegie Mellon (CMU) has had pretty good talent for most of their recent seasons, but something seems to be missing when they actually get on the court. Being one of the toughest schools in the nation, CMU oftentimes gets a tough draw because they can’t necessarily spend the same amount of hours on the court as a UC Santa Cruz, for example. However, these guys continue to have talent and always are a threat to any top team they play. The Tartans have beaten some great teams in the past, and although they only have one NCAA quarterfinal appearance in history, they are definitely a team to be reckoned with. On to the roster…
Key Additions: Jack Kasbeer, Kenny Zheng, Kiril Kirkov, Kunal Wadwani, William Duncan (from injury)
Key Losses: Duke Miller (#2 Singles, #1 Doubles), Harsha Rao (#5/6 Singles), Jooho Yu (#5/6 Singles)
As you can see, there has been a lot of overhaul with the Tartans roster. They lose possibly the most consistent player in CMU history in Duke Miller, and a couple of bottom of the lineup players. However, they add three highly regarded freshmen listed above. Combined with a solid (but dwindling) recruiting class from a year ago, they Tartans seem to be set in terms of roster talent. One key addition that I would like to point out is William Duncan, who is coming back from some type of injury that finished his season early last year – I believe it was his shoulder. When I had found out about that last year, it basically ended the Tartans season for me. Now, he’s back and looking back in form.
Anyways, let’s start with Abhishek Alla, who as everyone knows is this year’s Fall National Champ. The championship is a huge feather in the cap of the Tartans, considering they can count on Alla to be a favorite or at least a neutral in every match they play this year. If Alla can keep up his torrid play, this would put the Tartans in top-10 conversation in my book. Next up is what I believe to be the strength of the CMU lineup. I projected the 2 and 3 slots to be some combination of Christian Heaney-Secord and Will Duncan. CHS, who has been a solid #1 player, is going to be a favorite in almost every match at this point. Duncan, who I believe will be #3, is just a year removed from a ridiculous year in which he barely lost at this same position. These two will be an extremely strong combination if they can keep up their gameplay and fitness. After the two juniors comes what looks like a slew of freshmen. The trio of Kirkov, Kasbeer, and Zheng are slated to go #4,5,6 for the young Tartans. Although these guys had good ITA performances, Kirkov lost a lead in the third to lose to Amherst and Kasbeer got rocked by Reindel in the same match. Zheng looks to be one of the strongest #6 players in the nation if he can keep up his hot streak. The question with these guys is this – can Coach Girard handle the ups and downs of having freshmen in three important spots? In addition, are these guys adjusting well to college life and keeping up their responsibilities to the team down the stretch? It will be very interesting in a grueling college season. In doubles, it looks like CMU has a bit of work. Their top team will be CHS/Duncan, which is a solid #1 team. However, they’re far from a lock. The #2 and #3 teams are up in the air, and it looks like CMU will be mixing and matching between new players and returning (Yuvraj Kumar, Bryce Beisswanger) to try and find a good lineup. Doubles will be the key to this team’s success, as I don’t think many teams can take 4 singles matches from them.
For the second straight year, tons of kudos to Coach Girard for an incredible schedule. To start off the year, the Tartans will essentially play a few warm-up matches before they head to California for Spring Break. And honestly, what a spring break schedule it is. They’ll start off with the Stevens Tech Ducks, who are a feisty team that is looking to keep their top 30 ranking. CMU should be able to handle this one, but it’ll be interesting to see how they do in doubles. Just last year, they were down 2-1 to the same team. This is a great way to get used to the Cali weather along with just getting a competitive match under their belt. Next up will be Bowdoin and Redlands with a rest day in between. What a huge slate of Pool C matchups to start off the year. Personally, if CMU takes 1 of these 2, I think they’ll be in pretty good shape. Bowdoin always seems to give them a lot of trouble, as they play very good doubles and have a deep singles lineup. In their first “true” big match of the year, I see CMU coming up short in a close 5-4. Unlike last year, I think CMU will view this loss as a kick in the ass, and go into Redlands with a bit of fire in their bellies. As long as they can take one of the doubles, I see CMU taking 4 singles matches in another close one, 5-4 for them. Getting a H2H is so so so important in this context, so good luck to CMU in getting at least 1 of 2. Next up, they’ll be playing in their first Stag-Hen, and I’m really excited for their first round matchup. The Tartans will be playing none other than Wash U, which will be a hell of a matchup. Wash U always comes on strong at the end of the season, but this is where CMU can really surprise everyone. Can they take out a top 5 team? This is a season definer for the Tartans, and although I think they’ll come up short, if they win this it will change the course of their season. I won’t speculate the other two Stag Hen matches because it depends on winners and losers, but I forsee a fifth-place finish for them.
The second part of the CMU schedule is essentially the “rivals” section of the schedule. They’ll play Hopkins, Kenyon, Case Western, W&L and Mary Washington. Right now, I think the Tartans will be favorites in three of those matches – UMW, W&L, and Kenyon (!). Given that the W&L and Kenyon matches are at home, I see CMU running the home-court advantage where they have been semi-tough and taking those. The Kenyon match, which I want to focus on, will be determined by the bottom of the lineup for sure. If the freshmen can really step up into those big-boy NCAA shoes, CMU should take this in a commanding 6-3 victory. If they haven’t done their duties, the experienced Kenyon team will take them down and put a damper on the Tartans season. The other two matches are against Hopkins (@UMW) and Case Western (@Case). Based on ITA results, CMU should take Hopkins, but history doesn’t lie. Hopkins has been a better team for a while now and they have the experience and the fire. Whichever team works harder throughout the season will take that one, and I’m sticking with the Jays. Against Case, I think the Spartans play too well against CMU’s weaknesses. This is a match where Case could sweep doubles and just hold on for dear life in singles, taking it 5-4. They have been steadily improving and personally I don’t think CMU takes this one, especially on the road. Lastly, CMU will go into UAA’s as an undetermined seed. Either way, they’ll play one of the Emory/Case/WU trio, and we shall see if they are depending on that tournament to vault them into Pool C. If they are relying on that tournament, it means they hadn’t done enough during the season despite a jam packed schedule. I don’t see the Tartans digging out of that hole (they never have) if it comes to it. However, I think CMU has a few upsets in them where they should be in as long as they avoid a Chicago upset in UAA’s. Overall, this is a team that has NCAA quarterfinal potential but the more realistic result is a sweet 16 finish in which they have a few “shoulda coulda woulda” situations. It’s a step forward considering they’ve missed Pool C the past two years.